Wednesday, June 13, 2012

De-lights* of San Sebastian

Way back when, I posted what I called a "brief view of San Sebastian" and I promised there would be more to come. That was halfway through our trip, and we've been home two weeks now -- so it's time to keep my promise.

When last we left our protagonist, readers, she was (although she may not have disclosed this nugget) retiring for an afternoon siesta. When she awoke, refreshed, aware that her birthday was in the immediate offing, she realised that her husband would probably appreciate some gift-buying help. Off they wandered together, and discovered the charming shop pictured above -- a fun, Spanish label called Nice Things. . . which, besides offering a cute mixed-print summer shift that Ms. Mater snapped up, along with a simple taupe, map-printed top, listed prices for items bought in Spain (lower) and for those bought in the Rest of Europe (higher). Well, that was a no-brainer!

Check out the real reason I snapped the window photo -- the woman in the gorgeous outfit and heels just behind the mannequin!

After some additional retail therapy (I found my Mother of the BrideGroom dress for my son's August wedding at another shop -- by Penny Black, it's another shift in silk and linen, colour-blocked in neutrals and saturated pastels. I love it!; Paul picked up his straw fedora), it was time to start thinking about food again. We debated going out for a sit-down meal, but San Sebastian is widely known for its pintxos (pronounced pin-chos), and we only had one night in Donostia/San Sebastian.

So we set out -- the receptionist at our hotel had told us, during our check-in chat, that while tourists would chow down on several of these small-plate snacks in one bar, constituting a meal for themselves, the locals' custom has always been to enjoy one choice per bar, moving down and across the streets together, visiting on the way. Paul was inspired, and decided we should have one drink and one pintxo (think tapas, but smaller) per bar. Sounded like a plan . . .
These pictures are from various bars, all of which shared the basic element of long counter on which was displayed an array of pintxos on plate.
You help yourself, and somehow, mysteriously but very accurately, a tally is kept, and you pay when you're ready to leave. Here's an up-close view of two culinary marvels. . .
Above every bar hang a number of hams . . .
This bar (below) seemed to cater more to locals than some of the others, which were more tourist-filled.
As for our plan? I found the ratio of beer to food didn't work for me, especially since we'd had a light lunch. So I reneged at the second bar and insisted on being uncool and having a few pintxos at a single spot -- and I thought I'd better slow down on the beer . . .
so that I wasn't walking these streets too sloppily. . .
It's about 9:15 in this shot, early dusk, and you can perhaps see that the bars (represented by the closest neon sign on the left and the one a bit further back on the right) encourage one to cross the road seeking out a new variety of snack . . .
Between the snacking, the wandering was delightful,
the company good,
and we soaked in the atmosphere as the lights came on slowly,
While it might look as if the town is deserted, I assure you the bars were all doing a lively pintxos and beer trade -- not sure how much business was happening in that other commodity you see represented below . . .
Our wandering led us into this charming central square -- I find dusk a wonderfully seductive time for sitting outside, talking as the light falls, gradually being enveloped by the gathering dark, so I couldn't resist the chairs here . . .
These photos were taken without a flash (nothing is less cool, more here's-the-tourist, than a flash!) and the clock shows how late it is. At 9:20, mid-May, one might expect it to be darker, but we felt suspended in a magical space. The rules of physics and astronomy that govern light and time had been tweaked -- reminiscent, to me, of Harry Potter's Platform 9 1/2 -- and we took advantage . . .
I was fascinated by the architecture, puzzled by the proximity of the windows, row on row of them. . .  and why were they all numbered?
Those of you who have visited Spain before will likely know the answer already, but it was our first visit, and I had to ask our server -- apparently, the square was traditionally used for bull-fights, and the windows are for individual viewing units.
For the moment, though, I was the one doing the viewing, and the ghostly occupants who had cheered on their favourite toreador were in my sights . . . .


We sat and sipped and talked until all the lights were on and the sky was dark, and then we retraced our steps back through the narrow streets of old San Sebastian

and walked along the beach . . .

on the way back to our hotel
looking back at the statue we'd climbed up to earlier in the day . . .

some camera-play . . .
and then to bed . . .

*by now, perhaps, you'll have noted the (very poor) pun of my title . . . De Lights indeed!

24 comments:

  1. It looks like a perfect evening! I'm with you, though, on the food-to-alcohol ratio... Love that perfect little square, and your opportunity to just sit back and enjoy dusk (my favorite time of day as well).

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  2. Loving those images...
    that's a great shot of you in the square.
    You are quite photogenic mater.

    I don't know how you achieved the special effects on that last image but it looks suitable for framing.

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    1. Thanks, Lesley -- I had fun with the camera (never, ever do I think of myself as photogenic though!)

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  3. Love the photos. I've not been San Sebastian or indulged in Pintxos (although I have cooked extensively from Gerald Hirigoyen's book of the same name) but your description of the evening and the photos remind me so much of our trips to Spain and wandering around Madrid in the evenings, hopping from one packed tapas bar to another, and sometimes I did have more than one nibble with my beer or wine. We never made it to a formal restaurant for an evening meal in Madrid. We always had too much fun just wandering with the crowds.

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    1. That was our first foray into Spain. I'm anxious to get to Barcelona and Madrid and will have to compare the tapas experience with the pintxos. And will also have to keep an eye out for that cookbook, thanks

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  4. That big square with the numbered doors is also delight-ful on a Sunday morning - full of families having leisurely breakfasts and children playing in the big, safe, open space in the centre.

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    1. I can imagine that -- Kids would love that space!

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  5. I have only spent a couple of days in San Sebastian, but I've spent three summers in Spain and it does get dark very late there in May, June, and July, which is rather fitting in a country where people don't eat dinner until 9:30pm. Cañas (the small beers) are often half foam, so that is usually helpful for the food to alcohol ratio, but don't feel bad about eating extra pintxos!

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    1. I'm glad to know about cañas -- that will be perfect for me next time! And really, I can't wait 'til next time. I want to get to Barcelona!

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  6. Beautiful photos. I love that first one with the woman behind the mannequin. Good catch.

    San Sebastian sounds lovely. We've never been to Spain -- maybe someday.

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    1. Beach, good food, architecture, art . . . lots to love in San Sebastian . . . and that's barely a tiptoe into a whole new country to explore!

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  7. Ahhh - that was lovely.
    I look forward to seeing the purchases in future posts!....living vicariously at this point.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it . . . and yes, the purchases will probably show up at some point.

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  8. This looks like a lovely way to spend an evening. I especially enjoyed the photos taken in the different bars, and your outfit is perfect, casual but chic. So, so far over the years you have shared trips to various spots in France, to Portugal, Holland and Spain. Whither next year? :0) P.

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    1. We're thinking about that, Patricia . . . would like to see more of spain, but also thinking it's time to get to Italy (we've never been . . . )

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  9. So enjoy reading about your experiences abroad! Haven't made it to Spain yet, but it's on the list. Beautiful pics. Really love the one of you in the square, one can almost feel you relaxing and taking it all in! Btw, you and Paul look quite the distinguished couple! Looking forward to the next trip installment :)

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    1. I'm glad you're enjoying our travel posts . . . and thanks for the compliment! I hope you make it to Spain someday (and I hope I get to spend more than a day there!)

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  10. You've made this sound so enchanting. I could not have held up to so much beer without an entire meal FIRST, but I know I've always enjoyed tapas when I've sampled them. So, the bull fights were held in this lovely square?

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    1. Apparently the bull fights took place here -- hard to contemplate when it'so peaceful at present.

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  11. Really enjoyed this post - you've perfectly caught the feeling of wandering around San Sebastian in those long Spanish evenings. I recently visited Madrid for the first time, and was lucky enough to spend time with some Spanish friends who introduced me to the tapas experience there. Loved the idea and the food, although it'd take me a while to get used to eating at midnight!

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    1. glad you enjoyed the post, anon. I'm looking forward to visiting Madrid someday . . . not sure I 'd ever get used to the midnight eating though . . .

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  12. What a lush array of treats for you, and for us. And I find a few beers makes you even more photogenic, more relaxed.

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    1. Ha! What a great excuse for another beer!

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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